Magisterial district judges (MDJs) do not have to be lawyers but are required to pass a qualifying exam. They handle civil cases up to $12,000; responsible for whether serious criminal cases go the Court of Common Pleas; handle preliminary arraignments and hearings; minor criminal offenses, traffic citations and non-traffic ordinance violations. They are responsible for setting and accepting bail, except in murder or voluntary manslaughter cases. Term of office: 6 years. Salary: $93.338
Paralegal, Boston Univ 2010
Certified by Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
2009 – Present, Elected to Downingtown Borough Council for three consecutive terms serving in quasi-judicial and legislative roles
The top three alternative sentencing programs that I support are Mental Health Court, intermediate punishment (i.e., community service), and the re-entry program.
The MDJ has an opportunity to intervene at a pivotal juncture in the life of a non-violent, low-level offender by providing alternate sentencing that will not only keep the individual out of prison but will also provide the needed support to change behavior for the long-term. Successful intervention will benefit the individual and the community.
As MDJ can ensure fair hearings that are open to all and provide alternatives to cash bail when appropriate. Community service is a viable option for low-level, non-violent summary offenses. Additionally, in order to maintain a fair and equitable court, a judge must not participate in ex parte communications.
University of Notre Dame – BA;
Saint Louis University and University of Pennsylvania – JD;
As a sitting judge I participate every year in a one week Continuing Judicial Education Course which has kept me updated on relevant developments affecting the Court.
As an attorney I have over 35 years of legal experience in general areas including civil, criminal, family and municipal related matters. For ten years I participated in Mental Health hearings on the Mental Health Masters Circuit which has provided valuable insight into the many cases that come through the Court. As a Judge I have conducted thousands of hearings in my twelve years on the bench. My Court was chosen as the Pilot Court to oversee the process of implementing a Landlord Tenant assistance program. This program was created by the Friends Association and utilizes various fundraising sources to assist tenants in paying (and landlords receiving) past rent due and current rent.
There are no specific programs on which I lean in providing sentencing alternatives in lieu of prison. My first approach is to fashion some type of educational process which addresses the particulars of the case offense, the conduct of the defendant and, most importantly some measure of satisfaction and justice for the victim. I tend to fashion some community service, research assignments and writing exercises which hopefully force the Defendant into a position of empathy in understanding how their conduct has impacted the victim. Where appropriate, I will impose anger management counseling and classes as well as drug and alcohol education.
The bottom line is that the alternatives offered in lieu of prison must first have a good probability of enlightening, educating and changing the Defendant, while at the same time providing a real sense of satisfaction and justice for the victim.
The primary issues regarding cash bail, plea bargaining, and sentencing are consistency and transparency. Consistency does not mean “sameness”. Every case, defendant and victim offer specific factors which relate to that case and only that case. However, the process, protocols and rules should apply similarly to everyone. Transparency does not mean that details related to discussions and negotiations should be publicly aired but that the process is clear and known to all involved, including the public. As for the issue of bail, most newspaper articles and public discussions on the matter indicate that there is confusion between “bail” and “collateral”.
In non-criminal summary cases and traffic citations, defendants often end up sitting in prison on an outstanding warrant and are often required to post “collateral” to be released prior to a hearing. That very rarely happens in this Court as we rarely require the posting of collateral except when a defendant has consistently been less than candid with the Court and clearly has the means to pay.
As for bail, which applies to criminal cases only, the bottom line of cash bail is 1) the likelihood of a Defendant to appear for scheduled hearings; 2) the health, safety, and welfare of the alleged victims as well as the public; and 3) the health, safety, and welfare of the defendant. We do not use bail to punish a defendant before the case has been adjudicated.
Regarding plea bargaining, the process serves a purpose in a more efficient use of everyone’s time and energy including Court personnel, law enforcement, the parties and, importantly, witnesses and others who would have to appear for hearings and trial. If the plea bargaining process is consistent and transparent it provides many advantages to all involved as well as the public.
Regarding what a Judge does “on and off the bench” related to these issues, quite simply, I practice what I believe on the bench and preach what I practice off the bench.